For his ‘Colour Explosion’ creative story, Arved Colvin-Smith turned unblemished faces into canvasses, highlighting make-up artist Linda Öhrström’s impressive experiments in colour and form.
How did you become a fashion photographer? What drove you to it?
I was fascinated by photography from as far back as I can remember. As a child I spent many hours looking at pictures in books and magazines, and as I grew older I spent time in the school dark room, experimenting with something that was quickly becoming a passion.
Though my photographic skills were developing, I opted to study fashion and spent an eye-opening, yet wonderful, year sewing my clothes myself. At some point it was suggested that I explore other avenues within the fashion industry and I was very open to the idea. Around that same time there were two large retrospectives happening in London: one of Helmut Newton’s work, and the other of Guy Bourdin’s. I feel both influenced the path I decided to follow.
You photograph fashion and beauty. What appeals to you most about the two genres? Where do you see the greater creative challenge, if at all?
I love to photograph people and both genres allow me to do this. I approach both in a similar way: beauty may be somewhat more technical, although this can vary from project to project.
Your beauty series tend to be extremely close up. Why is that?
If the make-up artist creates something amazing and beautiful I like to get close to it, and I usually shoot each look various ways. I think I gravitate naturally towards the close up: it often comes about in the edit when looking back at the options. Perhaps there is a meaningful psychological explanation to this, I couldn’t say!
For the S magazine, you worked with Swedish make-up artist, Linda Öhrström. What was special about the collaboration and why did you choose her?
I work with Linda a lot – she’s an amazing creative force. We have a brilliant working relationship: we both enjoy developing and pushing ideas until all imagined options have been explored. It often happens that the final shots are the result of these experiments. It’s a very liberating way to work! It was obvious to me when I got the call to shoot a beauty story for the S Magazine with whom I would be working.
What is the concept behind ‘Colour Explosion’? Or, to put it differently, was there any concept at all?
When I was thinking about what I wanted to shoot for this project I kept coming back to the page count: beauty series often only run for a small number of pages, 3-6 maybe. I decided to create a casting series, where we would be able to have the freedom of experimentation while keeping it together as one body of work. It’s unusual to have such an open brief, and I wanted to make the most of it. I was very excited about this project and I’m very happy with the results. I would like to mention the amazing jobs Cynthia (stylist), Keiichiro (hairdresser), and Amy (nails) did. They came on board with great imagination and boundless energy; and also the beautiful models who where all very happy to be covered in all kinds of concoctions in the name of art!
How do you choose your models for the beauty series? Is there a particular criteria that you follow?
Casting is really important for any project. With beauty it can sometime be very clinical. I start with the idea and how I will light it, then start looking for features that work for the ideas: the shape of the face, lips, eyes, skin tone, hair and eye colour can all be considerations. For this series the brief was fairly open. It was important for me to get the models involved in the creative ideas, I wanted them to be part of the process. I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the day explaining the ideas, sharing references with them, and it was lovely that they were all so enthusiastic and happy to be involved in the project.
Do you prefer to work with 35mm or large format? Where do you see the differences in the effect of the pictures?
I work extensively with both formats, and I can’t say that I have a favourite, as they both offer
advantages one over the other in certain situations. Therefore, I usually choose what works best for the project. I think what’s often overlooked is the effect a camera has on the subject: there is a psychology behind it. You can set a mood with the camera. A hand-held 35mm can feel very intimate and relaxed, while if you set up a large format camera on a tripod tethered to a computer and a screen, it’s far more formal, and perhaps more intimidating.
Nowadays many cameras deliver extreme (digital) sharpness. To what degree do you find this a problem? How do you deal with it?
I honestly don’t think about this so often. I usually shoot everything fairly sharp, as I like it that way. I regularly add grain to the final images, to create some texture, which has a slight softening effect on an image. Lately I have been playing with using higher ISO in studio work; again, the added noise does soften the image somewhat, although this is not my primary motivation for doing so.
What challenges do you pose for the lenses for your beauty photography? What qualities do you need to have?
Great macro lenses are really important. I mostly hand focus when I shoot beauty, and if lights are a little dull, fast lenses are key to get a good and consistent focus.
What role does post-production play for you? How close is the original shot to the final result?
Post production is important to me. It’s rare for the published images to be wildly different to the originals: my aim is to achieve the look in-camera and with lighting. I set the curves and levels in the capture software and that is used as the guide for the final image. Some things I would like to do can’t be done in-camera, so it has to happen afterward. It’s great that the creative process doesn’t finish at the end of a shoot!
PHOTOGRAPHY Arved Colvin-Smith MAKEUP Linda Öhrström HAIR Keiichiro Hirano NAILS Amy Atkins STYLING Cynthia Lawrence-John DIGITAL IMAGING Suzanne Tak MODELS Ellen @ IMG, Sienna @ Established, Mika @ IMG and Ella @ TESS COSMETICS ALL by MAC CAMERA Leica S (Typ 007)